Seven Ways to Make Junk Food Healthier for Your Kids

Some “junk foods” can be (sorta) good for youngsters

By Kristine Don


A good third of our children and adolescents eat fast food on any given day, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics,with the older children and teens being more likely than younger kids to chow down on “junk food,” another name for our nation’s fast food. This does little to hide the fact that American kids between the ages of two and 19 receive an average of 12.4 percent of their daily calorie intake from fast food. It’s no secret that a diet of junk food and sugar doesn’t keep kids healthy. Childhood obesity is on the rise around the world, as are other related health conditions not usually found in kids. These include Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and even fatty liver disease, which is normally a result of alcoholism and can cause cirrhosis and cancer.

While there’s no easy way to remove junk food from your children’s diets entirely, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Consider these ideas to make the junk food your kids love just a bit healthier:

1. Snow cones: While snow cones are a brilliant way to entice kids to consume the extra water they need on hot days, the syrups that flavor them are filled with additives and dyes no parent wants to feed their child. Try making your own snow cones with puréed fresh fruits, such as frozen mixed berries, to use as flavoring. Or top the icy treat with the syrup from a can of blueberries, which are rich antioxidants

2. French fries: The unhealthiest part of French fries is the fat they’re cooked in. Try making your own baked fries with a sprinkling of saturated fat such as coconut or olive oil. You could even pan-fry them in peanut oil, which can improvecholesterol levels.Swap in matchstick-cut sweet potatoes, turnips, or parsnips instead of potatoes for a change of pace.

3. Corn dogs:If you’re avoiding gluten, corn dogs can be a great choice. You can make your own using grass-fed, organic beef franks and organic cornmeal, if cooking is your thing. If not, you’ll likely be able to find corn dogs made with relatively healthful ingredients in the local grocery store. Take a little extra time to read through the ingredient labels.

4. Potato chips: As with French fries, potato chips are unhealthy mostly because of the oils used to fry them. Vegetable oils — including corn, cottonseed, canola, sunflower, safflower, and soybean oils — should be avoided. You can bake your own chips, or you can keep an eye out for commercial brands fried in coconut, avocado, or olive oil. Chips made from other vegetables can also provide the crunch of a potato chip with a bonus nutritional boost.

5. Pizza: Most kids and teenagers love pizza. Luckily, it can actually be a great meal if it has the right ingredients. A homemade pizza — or one from a restaurant that uses quality ingredients — can provide calcium, protein, and antioxidants. Choose organic ingredients, add vegetables, and consider turkey sausage or grilled chicken (in place of processed meats and sausages) to increase the nutritional content even more.

6. Soda: Unfortunately, soda inherently lacks nutrition, and there’s not a lot to be done about that. But you can make your own homemade soda with flavored syrups made from real fruit. You can also jazz up seltzer water with splashes of antioxidant-filled pomegranate or cranberry juice. If you still want your store-bought fix, switch to a natural brand that offers several flavor options, lacks most of the unpronounceable ingredients of major soda brands, and is sweetened with cane sugar.

7. Funnel cake:This one might seem like a stretch at first glance. How can a funnel cake, nothing more than dough fried in unhealthy oil and covered in sugar, actually be healthy? Surprisingly, these treats can be better for you if you substitute whey protein for some of the flour, which adds protein while eliminating some of the carbs and sugar. You can also choose to bake your cakes rather than fry them.

No matter what your kids like to eat, there are always ways to make their favorites a little bit healthier and more natural. Have fun experimenting at home and choosing new flavors or brands. Who knows what wonderful discovery you might make along the way?

Kristine Don is a big-time science nut who dabbles in the world of health and wellness from time to time as the editor and content manager of, home of The Good Gummy and one of Inc.’s 500 Fastest-Growing Companies of 2015.